Thursday, March 5, 2009
Neko Case is Woman
Album: Middle Cyclone
Artist: Neko Case
Review: In Your Speakers
Rating: Four out of Five Stars
Neko Case is woman. Hear her roar. And lest you doubt, just take a glance at the album cover for her latest artistic endeavor, Middle Cyclone. Case is crouched and ready to pounce, fight, defend, and sing her heart out. In truth, she’s not much different than the animals that she writes and sings about. With the fierce gleam in her eye, you get the sensation all at once that Neko Case is simultaneously a killer whale and a magpie. She has tapped into her animal like characteristics, all the beauty, all the soul, all the chase and put it into one all too human album.
Neko Case is not a novice to her craft, and yet, with Middle Cyclone, she brings the intensity, passion, and heart of a first time recorder. In 2006, Case released Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. It was a funky combination of country rock, soulful gospel (Southern style), and some pop hymns. She sang about lions and sparrows. In Middle Cycle she sings about whales and magpies, all the while reminding us “I’m an animal, and you’re an animal, too.” Combining the talents of several of Case’s longtime friends, including Calexico, M. Ward, Los Lobos, and the New Pornographers, the album embraces a country twang as well as the beauty of a whole new type of tenderness . In Middle Cyclone, you will find Case as tangible as ever, and yet she manages to stay illusive enough to remain just out of reach (just try and decipher the lyrics of “Polar Nettles”).
With so much creative genius joined together, you’d have to seriously hate indie rock if you don’t immediately fall in love with this album. And for all of that collaboration, you get the sense that this is her show, her tour de force, and she doesn’t apologize or wonder…she knows she has created a masterpiece. Middle Cyclone also embraces something that Neko has shunned in most of her previous work: the topic of love. The album begins with “This Tornado Loves You”, in which she compares love to a near natural disaster, saying to the world that when she’s involved in loving, it can get dangerous. Her voice is as wide and strong as you’d expect from the woman on the album cover. And yet, when you listen to the title track, there is something so revealing, personal, tender, and quiet about the loneliness she reveals. She is definitely putting all of herself out on the battlefield.
Two of the albums most lyrical tracks are "I'm an Animal" and "Red Tide" because they do everything that Neko does so well. They are vast, they are poetic, they encourage you to think and sway at once. She takes to minor chords in “Prison Girls” and then goes to an old time slow dance in “Fever”. Her spunk is lilting in “The Next Time You Say Forever” where she threatens violence to the next man who makes false promises to her. Following that up with “People Got A Lot of Nerve” drives her point home.
What stands out above all else is the care, love, craft, and soul that Case put into every detail of Middle Cyclone’s creation. From finding as many pianos on Craigslist that she could cram into a Vermont barn for recording, to the sax solos, the beating drums, and the quick succession of each track to create a work of art that gives the impression that while intense, quick and intelligent, she also has all the time in the world to do what she loves.